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Self-Policing and Voluntary Disclosure in Environmental Law Enforcement Promoted


The United States Environmental Law can be found in statutes, case law, and treaties. Regular additions are released by the Environmental Protection Agency. All of these laws can sometimes become significantly difficult to keep up with, and not even the Department of Justice can go through all possible cases. As such, the Justice Department has stated that it will be requesting greater levels of self-policing and voluntary disclosure.

The Purpose Behind Self-Policing

The purpose behind self-policing and voluntary disclosure is to alleviate some of the strain on the Justice Department. The delay between filing a case and getting even the first day in court can be as long as two to five years, provided the discovery proceedings and attorney tactics do not delay the court hearing. Self-policing is considered a part of the alternative dispute-style resolution resolve that has started to move throughout the legal community. Its purpose is to speed along the legal process and ensure that justice is served.

How Self-Policing Would Be Handled

When a business or an individual realizes that he has violated environmental law in some way, he can come forward and indicate his guilt. He will then go before the administrative board and make his defense, if any. By coming forward, though, he waives the right to claim that he is not guilty. He can contest the administrative board&#39s decision, but it will not include jail time or excessive fines so long as the violation was not malicious or intentional. The purpose here is to limit the potential consequences that a business owner or individual could face for unintentionally violating them.

How Voluntary Disclosure Would Be Handled

When the attorney of the Justice Department or an agent of the Environmental Protection Agency initiates an investigation, the individual can offer what the Justice

Department describes as a "voluntary, timely, and complete disclosure." Currently, the disclosure only has to relate to the matter being investigated. The information provided must aid the authorities. Consequences are less than if the individual doesn&#39t cooperate, but at the same time, they are still stricter than those that he would have received if he had come forward before the investigation started.

Factors to be Considered in Judgment on Both Self Policing and Voluntary Disclosure

Currently, the Justice Department plans to look at the following factors to determine the appropriate consequences:

  • Cooperation of the individual
  • Pervasiveness of non-compliance: Repeat offenders or signs of malice, for instance, would negate the positive impact that cooperation would have
  • Consequence to the environment and the nation
  • Reasons for the violation
  • Any other extenuating circumstances that might influence the court
  • Good faith demonstrated by the individual cooperating

What Difference Does This Make?

One of the primary criticisms leveled against the Environmental Protection Agency and environmental law in general is that it is too harsh against individuals. In one of the more famous recent cases, the Supreme Court engaged in criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency when it sought to charge an elderly married couple hundreds of thousands of dollars for remaining in a home that had been declared part of protected wetlands. The EPA would have had the Sackett Family kicked out of their home in addition to the severe penalty that was set to cost the couple $37,000 a day, according to Sackett v. EPA.

Previously, anyone who was caught violating an environmental law could expect to receive no benefit. People who cooperated received almost the same treatment as those who tried to hide their actions. As such, there was no incentive for people to cooperate. This led to significant delays in case management as well as case resolution in addition to results that weren&#39t always fair or good.